A grown-up fi­nally takes com­mand

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN Wes­ley Pru­den is editor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

It’s early yet, and first im­pres­sions are some­times mis­lead­ing. But not of­ten. John Kelly looks like the best ap­point­ment Pres­i­dent Trump has made since he named Neil Gor­such to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not just be­cause he had An­thony Scara­mucci es­corted by se­cu­rity from the White House grounds to Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue, in a ver­sion of the fa­mil­iar perp walk, af­ter he was sacked as the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief. Mr. Kelly looks like — it’s early, but he looks like — the grown-up this White House has des­per­ately needed. Maybe Don­ald Trump can ab­sorb a late ed­u­ca­tion, af­ter all.

The pres­i­dent likes gen­er­als. That’s why he sprin­kled sev­eral good ones through­out his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Per­haps the pres­i­dent picked up re­spect for a man with brass on his shoul­ders when he was a wee lad at a mil­i­tary academy. Child­hood im­pres­sions can be good ones. He was drawn to Mr. Scara­muc­chi, on the other hand, be­cause he was a man who made a lot of money on Wall Street.

The pres­i­dent is im­pressed by money. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are. Money is not a dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion for ei­ther re­spect or pub­lic of­fice, but nei­ther is it ev­i­dence that a rich man nec­es­sar­ily has the cre­den­tials for high pub­lic of­fice.

It’s clear enough that the pres­i­dent has an eye for tal­ent, and he may un­der­stand now that it’s time to quit clown­ing and do some­thing to sal­vage se­ri­ous­ness. John Kelly, un­like some of the wor­thies in the White House, demon­strates that he doesn’t want a job at the ex­pense of sur­ren­der­ing his name. He ob­vi­ously made sure when he took the job as White House chief of staff that he would do the job his way, and would brook no im­pul­sive in­ter­fer­ence even from the im­pul­sive pres­i­dent.

Best of all, a four-star Marine Corps gen­eral is not likely to put up with any­thing that would ruin a rep­u­ta­tion. Bring­ing in the clowns — or keep­ing one — is not the way he would straighten out a chaotic White House. The pres­i­dent’s tweet to the con­trary notwith­stand­ing, chaos is ex­actly what the pub­lic sees when it looks at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue. Per­cep­tion, whether the pres­i­dent likes it or not, is the re­al­ity in Wash­ing­ton, and one way or another ev­ery­body who spends time in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal learns that.

Ide­ol­ogy is no sub­sti­tute for com­pe­tence, abil­ity and pro­fi­ciency. Don­ald Trump clearly doesn’t de­mand ide­o­log­i­cal clones and an ide­ol­ogy doesn’t hold much ap­peal for him since he never ac­quired one him­self. He’s a very smart ig­no­rant man, with lit­tle of the cu­rios­ity that at­tracts the think­ing or chat­ter­ing classes, which have a blind spot of their own since they do not read­ily rec­og­nize na­tive smarts. The Don­ald has those in abun­dance.

John Kelly brings both smarts and in­tel­li­gence to the job. A man doesn’t ac­quire a fourth star (or even a sec­ond and third) with­out ac­quir­ing pol­ish and a steady hand to go with it. He brings some­thing else to the job, a sense of dig­nity and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of fun­da­men­tal deco­rum, which has been sorely miss­ing in the Trump ranks from the be­gin­ning.

Mr. Kelly was ob­vi­ously of­fended, as were mil­lions of Amer­i­cans lib­eral, con­ser­va­tive and other, by An­thony Scara­mucci’s brag­gado­cio, swag­ger and low-life be­hav­ior. Mr. Scara­mucci may think he has a unique mule­skin­ner’s com­mand of sor­did lan­guage, and worse, but mule­skin­ners work­ing on an ad­vanced de­gree in vul­gar­ity, sex­ual and oth­er­wise, could learn a lot on a Marine pa­rade ground or bar­racks. But the new chief of staff, who has heard it all, was of­fended not only by Mr. Scara­mucci’s pub­lic lan­guage, and worse, his lack of ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of how peo­ple are ex­pected to deal with each other, his dis­re­spect for those with whom he was charged with su­per­vis­ing, and his ig­no­rance of the well un­der­stood rule that any­thing you say to a re­porter in Wash­ing­ton will show up on a printed page un­less it’s clear be­fore­hand that the con­ver­sa­tion is off the record. And even then, a man must be care­ful.

The pres­i­dent put out the word on Mr. Kelly’s first day that he would have the au­thor­ity to tighten the chain of com­mand. His press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, said “he has full au­thor­ity to carry out busi­ness as he sees fit.” Even the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter and son-in-law have to re­port to the chief of staff. The Oval Of­fice will no longer be Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion, with ev­ery­one free to walk in to see the pres­i­dent with­out an ap­point­ment.

Mr. Kelly has a lot of work to do to make all this stick. The good news is that the pres­i­dent seems to fi­nally un­der­stand that com­pe­tence is bet­ter than chaos. We’ll know Mr. Kelly has suc­ceeded when the pres­i­dent closes his twit­ter ac­count.

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